Alain de Botton: Philosopher of Everyday Life

The “reigning master of popular philosophy” shares guidance on fulfilling your every day.

These days, many of us may think that modern living is more about coping with stress than enjoying life. Listening to today’s news, dealing with the pandemic’s socio-economic impact, a growing reliance on technology with less personal communication, and just getting through each day unscathed by society’s ills seems to become more personally challenging.

We turn to positive thinking, try modalities to improve wellness, and focus on healthy foods and exercise to enhance our quality of life. Still, there’s no escaping the impact modern life is having on us psychologically. What if there’s another perspective on coping with modern living? That was the case with someone whose personal challenges led to an extraordinary life in helping others.

Pulled to Be a Writer

Born in Zurich in 1969 and living in London, Alain de Botton published his first novel at age 23, Essays in Love. The book dealt with falling in and out of love and was adapted to a romantic comedy film by Julian Kemp called My Last Five Girlfriends.

Ditching his career as a novelist in 1997, de Botton felt compelled to write a self-help essay, How Proust Can Change Your Life. It became a bestseller and launched his new career as a philosopher-author of modern-day living. He specializes in tackling some of the biggest questions on ordinary life. He has a talent in presenting his philosophical and therapeutic views in a refreshing, entertaining way, easily digested by readers and audiences. His goal is to make everyday ideas central in people’s lives.

An avid writer, de Botton has authored numerous books, including bestsellers in 30 countries. Never claiming to have all the answers, he addresses life’s greatest questions head-on, pointing to answers found in philosophy, psychology, written works, and visual arts. His thought-provoking ideas give readers a better understanding of themselves with topics that educate, entertain, console, and gently stimulate them into taking action.

The School of Life

In 2008, de Botton founded and helped run The School of Life, an organization designed to “find calm, self-understanding, resilience, and connection.” Classes are held internationally with schools based out of London, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Seoul, Istanbul, Taipei, São Paulo, Sydney, and Melbourne, with some locations having stores and cafes. The organization is dedicated to a “new vision of education,” focusing on developing emotional intelligence influenced by philosophy.

In an interview with Metkere.com, de Botton explains The School of Life’s emotional-based education, “The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.”

Photo: Rosie Hardy

In 2019, de Botton wrote a collection of essays for the School of Life, titled The School of Life: An Emotional Education that explores the “skill set that defines our modern lives.” The essays focus on every facet of our lives, including love and professional relationships, resiliency, and socially.

The School of Life shares its ideas through numerous channels, including books and ebooks, online psychotherapy, online classes, and offers an array of virtual solutions for businesses. With over 500 videos and a vast library of books, the organization’s philosophy boils down to eight core beliefs known as the credo of The School of Life. These beliefs cover areas of accepting imperfection, sharing vulnerability, knowing your insanity, accepting your idiocy, you are good enough, overcoming romanticism, despairing cheerfully, and transcending yourself. Here is an excellent video describing the eight rules of The School of Life:

Living Architecture

De Botton’s idea that our environment heavily influences us turned into a project launched in 2010 called Living Architecture. Touted as “holidays in modern architecture,” the holiday rental homes were opened to the general public and provided an immersive holiday. Leading contemporary architects and artists created the houses to enhance the appreciation of good modern architecture. Renters experienced the latest in domestic architecture and were encouraged to take away design inspiration from the houses.

Along with a website, the Living Architecture Journal launched in 2018 with a mission to raise standards and provoke debate and inspiration. The Royal Institute of British Architects appointed de Botton as an honorary fellow in 2009, recognizing his services to architecture.

Achieving Happiness

So how do we achieve happiness when our world seems to have turned upside down? The School of Life suggests taking “pleasure in a single, uneventful day, some delicate flowers, or an intimate conversation with a friend.  We can learn how to draw the full value from what is good, whenever, wherever, and in whatever doses it arises.” Taking it a step further, de Botton says, “To appreciate life’s small moments, it helps to have a sense the whole can never be made perfect.”

In a six-part documentary, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness based on de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy, he presents how to achieve true happiness according to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (431-270 BC). You can watch the fascinating episode here:

Learn more pearls of wisdom from Alain de Botton and The School of Life, and perhaps you will gain some insightful aphorisms to ponder that can lead to a more fulfilling life.